MADELEINE BRAND, host:
A key victory for President Obama today in the Senate, where funding was killed for seven F-22 fighter jets. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says they're not needed. The president had threatened to veto a big defense bill because it contained nearly two billion dollars for the jets. With that funding gone, some senators fear many aerospace jobs may soon be gone as well.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: The radar evading F-22 Raptor designed to battle Soviet fighter jets has been plagued by cost overruns, equipment failures, and increasing obsolescence. Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin assured his Senate colleagues no more are needed.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democratic, Michigan; Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee): The time has come to end F-22 production at 187 F-22As. That is all that we need to buy, that is all we can afford to buy and that is all that we should buy.
WELNA: Not so, said Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss. He argued the F-22s, which are built in his state, remain vital to the nation's air-superiority.
Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): And what am I hearing from the leadership at the Pentagon: that we're going to move away from the most advanced fighter in the world today and move to a smaller fighter, that we're going to move away from fighters and maybe even all together by going to UAVs? Is this the Air Force I signed up for?
WELNA: And Washington Democrat Patty Murray pointed out that Levin's amendment removing the F-22 funding could also put thousands out of work.
Senator PATTY MURRAY (Democratic, Washington): This amendment cancels a vital military program without adequate thought of the men and women we rely on to design and build the equipment that our war fighters depend on.
WELNA: But Arizona Republican John McCain, who co-sponsored the measure stripping the F-22 funding, said this was not about saving jobs.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): And it really boils down to whether we're going to continue the business as usual of once a weapon system gets into full production it never dies, or whether we're going to take the necessary steps to really reform the acquisition process.
WELNA: The measure striking the F-22 funding passed 58 to 40. That followed intense lobbying by the White House, and the president's first veto threat. Majority Whip Dick Durbin gave Mr. Obama credit for the victory.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democratic, Illinois; Majority Whip): Many of the people that I whip said I'm with the president. I mean, it was pretty clear that they understood this is an important vote about his leadership.
David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.
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